Album Review: Belle and Sebastian - 'A Bit of Previous'

Never has there been a more apt title for an album than Belle and Sebastian’s A Bit of Previous, with their tenth album acting as a rumination on their three-decade long career. Maia Gibbs reviews.


The album’s 12 tracks act as a mosaic of their musical influences, bouncing from decade to country, genre to composition. Tracks like Come on Home nod towards ‘70s smooth jazz, with a distinct electric piano throughout, while Prophets on Hold and Talk to Me Talk to Me take on more funk and disco stylings. These swings and turns never feel out place, however. Maybe it’s because I was expecting a melting pot from Belle and Sebastian, or maybe it’s just that they know how to construct an album. Construct also being an apt word.


There’s a patina to their sound, the songs appearing more refined and sophisticated than their earlier works. Whether this is exactly what we want from Belle and Sebastian is up for discussion. Being their first full-length to be recorded in its entirety in their native Glasgow since 1999, their polishing and fine-tuning can’t be ignored.


"Belle and Sebastian confirm that this is not a ‘return to form’ album"

Single Young and Stupid is certainly a stand out. Belle and Sebastian confirm that this is not a ‘return to form’ album with lyrics like: “Now we’re old with creaking bones / Some with partners, some alone / Some with kids and some with dogs / Getting through the nightly slog.” It’s a bittersweet song, as most songs about the inevitability of time are. Yet it’s something I, someone still young and quite often stupid, and those older and seemingly wise can enjoy.


It may be a niche of mine, but I love samples of people talking in songs - little video recordings, recording studio discussion, audio clips are my cup of tea. And Young and Stupid offered me a brew, with a sample of a woman: “You’re so small, nothing matters, so whatever,” captured in a hissing cassette. It’s a perfect finale for a incredibly self-reflective track. She isn’t pessimist, rather a liberated freedomist, letting go of expectations and worries and deadlines. Certainly mirroring the bands new open-minded and seemingly joyous outlook.



This sentiment is strangely continued in Unnecessary Drama, where Stuart Murdoch sings, “And it’s probably not surprising/You’re burning through your life/And if I had a second encore/I would probably do the same.” Maybe we’re seeing a new trait of the Buddhist frontman, who continuously contemplates life and reincarnation in this album. Murdoch’s penchant to explore concurrent modes of spiritual practice—leading weekly meditation sessions via livestream in the pandemic – may mean his music is now interested in the ever-changing self and the constant flux of life.


It could be said A Bit of Previous is a meditative journey, many songs having enlightened realisations and considerations on being alive. Maybe 30 years in the band have the mindfulness to reach their full potential?


Don’t worry - it’s not as heavy hitting as it sounds.


Their strength for melodies is sill present, often beautifully intertwined with strings and brass instrumentation. Sarah Martin’s backing vocals are invaluable to band, as her harmonies carry songs like feminist electro concoction Reclaim the Night and A World Without You. Meanwhile the band lean on eclectic harmonies in the soulful If They’re Shooting at You, where we hear the booming sounds of a choir led by vocalist Anjolee Williams. The track takes the spiritual undertones of the album to new godly heights.



It’s a maximalist album, for sure. The songs are thoughtful and grand, niche but relatable. All of the tried and tested Belle and Sebastian trademarks are there, refined and aged like fine wine. Their acceptance of their age and legacy in indie stardom doesn’t take away what we love best about the Scottish troupe but thrills us in its delightful self-awareness.


And you often can’t say many bands over the age of 30 are self-aware.


Maia Gibbs

 

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell


Featured image courtesy of Belle and Sebastian via Facebook.